This weekend my daughter said, Kids at school think I’m dirt! No one likes me. I’m too short, I don’t have the right clothes, my voice is too high…”
Heartbreaking stuff. She’s an 8-year-old with shitty self-esteem.
We had a long talk about positive self talk, about how you’ve got to believe deep down inside that you are good, that you are beautiful and smart and worthy and lovable no matter what people say. My daughter listened, but she looked unconvinced.
I told her that every time she goes to the bathroom and looks in the mirror as she washes her hands to think: I am smart. I am beautiful.
But then this morning I came across John Cloud’s fascinating article in the online archives of Time Magazine Health: Yes, I Suck: Self-Help Through Negative Thinking. The article is about self-esteem, self-judgment as well as positive and negative thinking. It includes a study that supports “newer forms of psychotherapy that urge people to accept their negative thoughts and feelings rather than try to reject and fight them. In the fighting, we not only often fail but can also make things worse. Mindfulness and meditation techniques, in contrast, can teach people to put their shortcomings into a larger, more realistic perspective. Call it the power of negative thinking.”
Hmmm. Perhaps I just need to listen to my daughter’s negative self-talk and try not to convince her otherwise?
All of this got me thinking about, well, the way I think about myself. What am I modeling for my daughter?
Do I think of myself as smart? Do I think of myself as beautiful?
The answer is: No. I do not.
My internal dialog runs the gamut of Holy shit did you really just say that? If I just lost 5 pounds…This writing is total crap! My hair looks like a squirrel died on my head. I can’t believe I smell this way…
My brain (or personality?) choses to chew on the negative. I have TMJ of the brain.
I suspect it’s not just me who feels this way. There are so many ways media cuts a woman’s psyche down in order to get her to buy a whole bunch of stuff. The advertising promises that we will Feel amazing! Look better!
When it comes to my friends and family, I am a glass half full type of person. But when it comes to myself, not so much.
I grew up in an interesting home. My mother was a cheerleader, but had subtle ways of making me feel like I was a work in progress. In retrospect, sending a slightly chubby 12-year-old to Weight Watchers with a neighbor seems a questionable thing for a mother to do.
My father was a negative Nelly. He had very old school notions about raising a girl. I was supposed to be pretty and thin. When I’d reach across the table to take a second helping of chicken at dinner he’d point to his wedding ring and shake his head implying that if I ate more food I’d never get married. He used to say that my brother would get the M.B.A. and I would get the MRS.
I never saw my mom’s natural hair color (which was, I think, brunette). She always, always had blonde hair out of a bottle. And she never left the house without a full face of make-up. She was almost always trying out a new diet when I was a kid.
You are not okay as you are.
My mom never said a negative word to me about my appearance. She always told me I was beautiful, even as she permed my 7-year-old hair and took me on countless shopping trips for better clothes. Hmmmm.
One thing I know for sure is that I don’t want my daughter or sons to feel that they suck. But I also need to give them the space to talk about their negative feelings while modeling positive self-esteem.
Hello, therapist? It’s Jen. I need a little help, please.
How do you feel about yourself? What messages are you giving your kids through example?